Shibli can smile with the Irish

It is billed as a social run and not one for serious racing. But just try telling that to the weekend warriors who were vying for bragging rights.

A new name on the winners’ list was guaranteed because for the past four years Aussie speedster Scott Brittain had dominated the 5k run through Brittania Golf Course. Brittain returned to Brisbane last year so the field was open last Friday.

It was the 20th staging of the Irish Jog, one of the most popular fun runs of the year – and like last time attracted around 1,200 participants. The run is co-sponsored by Grand Cayman Beach Suites and Butterfield Bank and always raises money for good causes. This time it was thousands for Fuelling Young Minds, a feeding programme for disadvantaged school children.

It was won by David Shibli, the 46-year-old former teenage cross-country specialist who only started taking the sport seriously again a few months ago. This was Shibli’s first victory of any race of this type. Teenager Tristan Von Kirchenheim was second and Shibli’s good pal Derek 
Larner third.

“I’ve never won an individual race before so the hardest part was mentally seeing myself as the winner,” Shibli said. “If you don’t believe, you don’t get. It’s as simple as that. A fellow runner emailed me during the week asking me if I was going to run and I decided to be positive and just be honest, so I responded that, ‘I was in it to win it’.

“If Marius Acker (Cayman’s top runner who strolled round) had decided to race seriously, then it would have been a one-horse race. I’ve been training with Marius lately on Tuesday mornings for tough eight by 800 metre sessions. He gives me five seconds head start and always passes me in the home stretch.

“He has helped me become much more focused and disciplined. In fact, he challenged me late last year to lose weight and raise my game. I was certainly very glad that Marius gave the rest of us the chance to fight over a bone as he is still very much the top dog.

“My tactics were to stay on the shoulder of the leaders for the first mile to let everything settle down. Someone usually goes off at a ridiculous pace and quickly fades away and I did not want to be caught 
up in that.

“At the end of the first mile we’d put in a respectable 5 minutes 45 seconds, but it was beginning to settle and I knew then that I had to make a move since the younger guys would have faster kicks. I started to push and before the end of mile 2, I sensed that I was on my own which came as 
quite a shock.

“The split was 5:36. Now all I had to do was hang on for the last mile. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Tristan who has a great finish, but thankfully I knew I was going to make it. I was really tired.”

Shibli’s time was 18 minutes 37 seconds and Brittain strolled it last year in 17:55. He was pleased with that because St Paddy’s is a tough course to run. Von Kirchenheim finished in 18:55 and Larner in 19:10. Claire Critchley was the first woman home in 20:12.

The reception after was heartening. “Everybody was so warm afterwards and you could see surprise on some peoples’ faces. Although you’ve run the race in your dreams a 1,000 times, nothing beats the real thing. It was a great feeling shaking a lot of friendly hands belonging to people who were genuinely happy for me. The whole moment was very special since I had never won anything like it previously.

“There really is no 5k in Cayman that compares to the Irish Jog and a lot of the runners put in a great effort to be ready for it, so I would say that the build-up for me was most enjoyable part. Those few minutes on the start line waiting for the horn are indescribable.”

Shibli will be back next year to try to defend it. “A lot can happen in a year, but the long-term plan is certainly to take my running to higher levels and remain injury-free.

“If that happens, God willing, I will be there to defend the title as hopefully a much stronger, faster runner. So let me take this opportunity to challenge the running community to forget about anything they may have achieved in the past and keep striving to be better. You never know where it may take you!”

He competes in the Duathlon this weekend. It starts and finishes at Grand Harbour from 7am.

“I’ll be teaming up with Steve Abbott and we’ll be entering as the British Bulldogs. We won the team event last year, but this year should be interesting as Steve is just coming back after a nasty fall. There are other runners and cyclists out there who are capable of forming strong teams, but ultimately, the Duathlon is really about the individual title as it takes a lot to do all three sections by yourself.”

There is no chance of resting on his laurels either. “I’ll be in Jacksonville the weekend after doing the Tour de Pain. It’s 10k, 5k and a half marathon over 24 hours and will push me hard. That will be my last preparation for a full marathon in Indiana on 21 April where I hope to go under the magic three hours. After that I’ll re-evaluate my goals, although I plan to train harder than ever through the year.

“Who knows, if Marius can get out of bed on time this year, I might be able to give him a run for his money over the half at the Cayman Marathon in December!”